On this day, 124 years ago, National Geographic Society was founded! As their motto, “Inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888”, states, the society’s purpose is to encourage environmental awareness. Today we are commemorating their long legacy of scientific discoveries, explorations, and philanthropy!
33 well traveled men that comprised geographers, cartographers, explorers, teachers and military officers, formed the National Geographic Society at the private social club, the Cosmos Club, in Washington D.C. The Society remains headquartered in the capital.
The original, founding motto, “a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge,” was included in the constitution drafted by the group, of mainly scientists and geographers, which ‘lawyer’ Gardiner Greene Hubbard headed as its president. What’s interesting is that his son-in-law, also a founding member, was Alexander Graham Bell. Bell succeeded his father-in-law following Hubbard’s death in 1897.
While the society did not hit the ground running in the spreading of their ideas, the National Geographic magazine, which was created nine months after the group’s founding, solved this issue, Right at the turn of the century, another family link joined the team. This time it was Bell’s son-in-law, Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, who was made the first full-time editor of the magazine, serving the organization for over half a century. With his guidance, readership grew at an impressive rate. From 1000 to 2-million in just a couple of years! The secret? The inclusion of photos and the shift from technical pieces to general interest features.
Since their humble beginnings, during which the photos in the magazine were perhaps seen as more of a successful marketing strategy, they’ve become world renowned for their photographs of so many of the Earth’s nooks-and-cranny’s. Among their photographic feats are the printing of the first natural-color photos of the sea, the sky, and the North and South Poles, and the documenting of the deep-sea explorations of Jacques Cousteau.
Today, children also benefit from the society’s educational television programming. As a leading, non-profit, organization that promotes learning not only with their published material but also by supporting socially based projects. 124 years on, the society’s desire to appeal to the layman has definitely been surpassed, and we all continue to be inspired, as photographers and as people.
A point to note is that January 13 is the day the founding members gathered at the Cosmos Club, while January 27 is when the society was formally founded.
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